Changes within the Old Police Cells over Winter

Ceremonial uniform as it was displayed before on a female manikin
Maria Wallis uniform as it was displayed
Maria Wallis Uniform displayed now.
Truncheon shelf before change in display
Truncheon shelf after change in display
Collections of irreplaceable and valuable artefacts in many of Britain's museums and heritage properties are under threat from a growing army of insects, particularly moth and beetle larvae. Can we stop them munching away on our precious relics?
The Clothes Moth, sometimes called Common Clothes Moth, is one of a few moths whose larvae eat clothes and household/museum materials.

The Old Police Cells under Brighton Town Hall were opened up as a museum in May 2005. Set up by ex police officers, researchers and members of the Town Council, the museum has changed little since and, although the collection is timeless, the displays have had little update or conservation over the decade.

 

The museum had a moth issue.

Arriving in 2012 from a museum studies degree I have started to work on improving the storage and presentation of parts of the collection. This started with looking in to the process of Museum Accreditation and from this introducing pest traps and environment monitors, not expecting to find an issue as there had never been one reported before. But upon checking of the pest traps and conservation with the region’s preventative conservation officer it was deemed that the museum had a moth issue. Upon reflection, its hardly surprising. It’s a 200 year old building with a draught running though.

‘Virtually all the major museums now have clothes moths, and some serious problems, where 10 years ago we found very few.’

Webbing clothes moths are about 8mm long and gold-ish in colour, but Mr Pinniger explains that people should not be fooled by their size:

‘People find big moths and think they do lots of damage, but clothes moths are really small.’

“Bug man” David Pinniger

Project of conservation and protection

Having found moths, they could hardly be ignored. So a project of conservation and protection was started. Firstly the task involved a steep learning curve delving into the lives of moths. When the problem was first discovered one of the uniforms that moths were found on was frozen and the rest of the collection cleaned with a conservation hoover. But, due to the open vents, the moths simply returned to wreak more havoc.

Due to the structure of the pre-Victorian building the heating runs up the cell walls and so, when the heating got turned on over the winter after this mass clean, any further moth eggs hatched in the heat, thinking it was spring. Although little actual moth damage was found during this process, moths and their trails were.

Drastic action

Drastic action was called for. Using some of the money the museum has acquired over the years, the museum brought a chest freezer so we can freeze our own uniform collection of around 20-30 items on a regular basis and conduct a rolling freeze to prevent further damage to the collection. For some of the older, valuable and already damaged uniforms, display cases have been purchased. Made to order for the manikins, this should result in the uniforms being protected from moths.

In one of these cases the uniform is displayed with the officer’s hat which will benefit from being inside a case and not tried on by courageous visitors. To improve the display of some of the uniforms, new manikins have been purchased. This aspect of the project has focused on getting new manikins for the handful of male uniforms that were on female manikins, either due to their size or the mere lack of enough male manikins at the time. Having moved the manikins around, the redisplayed uniforms are looking so much better than before, although one uniform is proving to be a problem as it is too small for any of the male manikins.¬†

Finally the last change over the winter was to redisplay two shelves of truncheons that were crowded. During the process, conservation and packing materials have been purchased and the truncheons were packed in to one of the new storage boxes opening up the display making the truncheons still on display visible.

So, over all there have been some very drastic changes over the winter period, in an attempt to conserve and present the collection to the visitors for another 10 years and more.

 

By Holly Parsons, Museum volunteer.

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